Johnson remains in command
Dustin Johnson remained in the driver’s seat despite carding two double-bogeys to sign for a third round six-under-par 66 at the WGC-HSBC Champions on Saturday.
The American Ryder Cup star compiled a three-day total of 18-under-par 198 to take a three-shot lead over defending champion Ian Poulter of England who surged into contention with a 63.
Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell trailed Poulter by a single shot after a spectacular 64 saw him take third place at the US$8.5 million showpiece in Shanghai.
It was an enthralling battle for supremacy at the top with Johnson and Poulter going head-to-head at the Sheshan International Golf Club.
Poulter, looking to become only the second player after World Number One Tiger Woods to successfully defend a World Golf Championships title, had charged up the leaderboard with five birdies in a row from the third and another on the ninth hole.
The Englishman birdied the 10th but had his efforts matched by Johnson, who was equally impressive.
The seven-time PGA Tour winner fired five birdies in a row from the par-four fifth but found trouble on the 10th hole where his pitch to the green failed to get to the top of a steep slope and rolled back to his feet.
Johnson’s third attempt smashed into the pin and he eventually limited the damage to a double-bogey six by holing from 12-feet.
There was further drama at the par-five 14th when Poulter holed an eagle from 20-feet to reduce Johnson’s lead to one.
However, the American responded once again with birdies on the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th before seeing his lead reduced to three with another double-bogey on the 18th.
“It was another really good day, I played really well but obviously the two doubles hurt a little bit. To have a three shot lead going into the last day is good and I’m looking forward to the challenge. I still have to play really well. The guys that are right behind me and they are playing very well too,” said Johnson.
“Making two doubles, there’s no excuse for that. Especially the way I’m playing right now, it shouldn’t happen,” added the 29-year-old.
Poulter meanwhile three-putted the 17th for his only bogey of the day but closed with another birdie to remain firmly in the hunt.
“It was a nice day. Guys have shot low today. With the benign weather conditions, not much wind, soft greens, perfect greens to putt on, you’ve got to make birdies,” said Poulter.
“As well as I played, I felt that other guys were still going to make birdies. So I felt like I had to keep pressing. You had to get it inside 15 feet. The greens are so perfect and if you start it on line, it’s going to go in,” added the Englishman.
McDowell, who chased down Johnson in the final round to win the US Open in 2010 will be looking for a repeat after marking his card with six birdies and an eagle-two on the 16th hole.
“I haven’t holed a lot of putts, so hopefully I’m saving it for tomorrow. It’s just nice to be in contention going into tomorrow. I know conditions are going to be fairly similar again tomorrow and I’ll have to go low to even finish second here,” said McDowell.
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